National Improvement Framework and Improvement Plan: 2020

Sets out the vision and priorities for Scottish education and the improvements that need to be made to help deliver those priorities.

Delivering improvement

The primary purpose of the National Improvement Framework since January 2016 has been to bring together an enhanced range of information and data at all levels of the system, to drive improvement for children and young people in early learning and childcare settings, schools, and colleges across the whole of Scotland. The Scottish Attainment Challenge has also become a rich source of information about good practice in schools, and how high‑quality teaching and learning delivers improvements in outcomes.

Education remains, by far, the most effective means we have to improve the life chances of all of our young people. There are many excellent teachers and schools and colleges in Scotland providing a high quality education to our children and young people, many of whom are thriving. It is important to recognise the great work being done in many of Scotland’s schools and the achievements of our children and young people.

The latest Achievement of CfE Level data shows that more than 80% of children in P1 are achieving the expected level in numeracy, reading, and listening and talking, with just under 80% achieving that level in writing. Similarly, around 80% of children in P4 and P7 achieved the expected level in reading and around 85% in listening and talking, with over 70% achieving the level in writing and numeracy. Attainment among the most disadvantaged children and young people rose in numeracy at all stages, and in reading and writing at P1, P4 and P7. The attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged has narrowed on most indicators. For example, the gap in P1 literacy has closed by 1 percentage point, and it is almost 2 percentage points narrower for P7 literacy.

We have seen an increase in entries and pass rates across National 5, with the total number of passes up 3.4% and the pass rate increasing by 0.7 percentage points. There has been a fall in Higher pass rates, which are down 2.0 percentage points. However, this was still a strong set of results, with three-quarters of candidates attaining a pass at Higher grades A-C. Over 54,000 skills based awards and achievements were certificated by August 2019 (up from 24,849 in 2012).

There is also encouraging evidence that outcomes for children and young people are improving year-on-year, and that the proportion of young people in the most deprived areas getting one or more qualifications at SCQF level 6 (Highers and vocational qualifications) is increasing faster than those in the least deprived areas. In addition, 88% of school leavers in the most deprived areas were in a positive follow up destination in March 2019, compared with 83% in 2014.

However, we also know that more needs to be done to continue to improve outcomes for all our children and young people, and that we need to continue to focus on improving attainment in the year ahead. We must all work together to raise the bar and close the gap for all.

At its most recent meeting, the ICEA expressed some concern around the variation in performance and pace in some parts of Scotland in progress towards reducing the attainment gap. As a consequence, the ICEA recommended that there should be a more consistent and coherent approach to dealing with underperforming schools and local authorities. The ICEA said the Scottish Government and Education Scotland should be doing more to match leadership skills and competencies to problems in a more strategic way, promoting a culture where collaboration is underpinned by ongoing professional challenge.

The Scottish Government and Education Scotland also recognise the ongoing need to promote and support the use of the data that is now available to help develop and target improvement activity at all levels of the system. Both Insight and the BGE benchmarking tool provide comprehensive data which schools and local authorities are using to help identify areas of concern and strategies for improvement. This activity is supported by a small team of professional advisors based within the Scottish Government. Education Scotland has also recruited a team of National Improvement Framework Officers, one based in each of the six Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs) to help support local improvement activity.

At national level, this Improvement Plan summarises the key evidence and identifies new improvement activity that the Scottish Government will be taking forward or supporting. While it is a national plan, the activity it contains has been informed primarily by local and school-level priorities drawn from the regional improvement plans produced by the six RICs, as well as the 32 local authority 2019/20 improvement plans, which in turn have all been informed by improvement planning at individual school level. The national plan is, therefore, a summation of what schools across Scotland have told us they want to focus on in order to improve, informed by local consultation and evidence. The Plan has also been informed by the data in the NIF Interactive Evidence Report, evidence from school inspections and local authority self-evaluation reports, findings from the interim evaluation of the Scottish Attainment Challenge, and recommendations and advice from the ICEA.

The regional and local authority plans, informed by the school improvement plans, identified a number of common themes, which are picked up later in this plan under the relevant drivers of improvement:

School Leadership

  • Developing high performing leaders equipped to lead and develop schools in an empowered system
  • Improving the leadership skills of middle and senior leaders through career long professional learning, sharing good practice and collaboration

Teacher Professionalism

  • Developing skilled and confident teachers by supporting continuous professional development through a range of activities
  • Collaboration between teachers supported by local authorities and the Regional Improvement Collaboratives
  • Increasing the spectrum of career long professional learning for teachers
  • Develop opportunities for practitioners to engage in collaboration and career long professional learning, particularly in relation to literacy and numeracy
  • Develop creative approaches to learning and teaching, including improving the quality of play and pedagogy at Early Level

Parental Engagement

  • Supporting parents to develop the skills and confidence to engage in, and encourage, their children’s learning in school and everyday life
  • Parental engagement to enable and support early intervention

Assessment of children's progress

  • Assessment and moderation – strengthen the consistency of data collection
  • Sharing of good pedagogical strategies to raise attainment
  • Improvement in attainment, particularly in literacy, numeracy and maths
  • Further develop the means to raise attainment and close the poverty related attainment gap between the most and least deprived children

School Improvement

  • Further develop approaches to school improvement which focus on the quality of education, particularly in literacy, numeracy, and maths
  • Using self-evaluation data, at all levels of the system, to identify strengths, areas for development, and plan for improvements
  • Further develop evaluative writing approaches
  • Increase the levels of pupil participation and strengthen the learner voice
  • Improve the mental health, wellbeing and resilience of children and young people through early advice, support and education

Performance information

  • Further develop the variety of means to measure performance and impact
  • Improved data analysis and the use of data to inform planning for improvement.

A curriculum that provides the skills and attributes needed in a rapidly changing world

In 2018 the ICEA endorsed Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) as “the cornerstone of educational transformation in Scotland” but recommended a renewed focus on the four capacities of CfE[1]: successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens, effective contributors.

The purpose of Scotland’s curriculum is to provide young people with the skills, knowledge and experiences that will prepare them for their life beyond school and provide them with the best possible opportunity to fulfil their potential. Curriculum for Excellence, its four capacities, its principles and its values are therefore the central foundation for high quality learning, teaching, and assessment. It is essential that the curriculum supports our children and young people to develop fully in school, to achieve positive destinations and to be provided with the full range of skills, attributes and capacities to be resilient within a rapidly changing world.

A range of indicators demonstrate important strengths within the curriculum:

School leaver data

  • a record 93.2% of 2017/18 school leavers were in work, training or study within nine months of leaving school, up from 92.9% in 2016/17;
  • the proportion of 2017/18 school leavers unemployed nine months after leaving school was 5.8%, down from 13.8% in 2009/10;
  • the gap between those from the most and least deprived communities in work, education or training – a positive destination – has reduced from 20.2 percentage points in 2009/10 to 8.6 percentage points in 2017/18; and
  • a record 39.0% of school leavers in 2017/18 were in Higher Education nine months after leaving school.
  • the number of school leavers attaining vocational qualifications at Level 5 and above increased from 7.3% in 2013/14 to 14.8% in 2017/18;
  • the percentage of school leavers attaining one or more passes at SCQF Level 6 (Higher) or better is up from 50.4% in 2009/10 to 62.2% in 2017/18; and
  • the percentage of school leavers attaining one or more passes at SCQF Level 5 (National 5) or better is up from 77.1% in 2009/10 to 85.9% in 2017/18.

Senior Phase “offer” - The recently published Headteacher Survey (2019) told us that:

  • schools are offering learners a wide range of courses and qualifications, including college provision (93% of schools at S5), Duke of Edinburgh Award (91% of schools at S4), Foundation Apprenticeship (94% at S5), and Saltire Awards (69% at S6);
  • the majority of headteachers (85%) feel they are achieving an “integrated, progressive and coherent experience for young people in the Senior Phase”;
  • 97% of headteachers said that they are flexible in their approach and offer individualised timetables where possible

This information demonstrates that young people are being provided with a wider range of options and pathways. Schools are being provided with the opportunity to be flexible and to tailor their curriculum to the needs of every single young person no matter their background, interest, confidence or future career aspirations.

There are, however, a number of priorities for improvement in 2020.

We will embed the refreshed narrative and we will support schools to use it as a practical tool for improvement

The OECD recommended that we simplify and clarify core guidance. The Refreshed Narrative on Scotland’s Curriculum provides the basis for school leaders and practitioners to re-engage with the fundamental principles of CfE and to engage with the breadth and flexibility inherent within the curriculum. We will work with practitioners and school leaders to make full use of the refreshed narrative as a tool to engage with the curriculum, to stimulate and support dialogue about the purpose of the curriculum and to consider how it should be structured and supported.

We will support continuous improvement in the Broad General Education and Senior Phase

It is essential that the Broad General Education (up to S3) provides learning experiences which: develop the young person as a whole; support their wellbeing; provide them with strong literacy and numeracy skills, and; enable them to gain the wider achievements and skills essential in life, learning and work. Improvement support for the BGE will focus on supporting the skills and attributes of the four capacities and will be available across literacy, numeracy, and health and wellbeing and in response to demand across subject areas.

It is important too that planning for longer term learning outcomes is embedded within effective design and development of the curriculum, taking account of the values and ethos of the school.

The local context and the needs of learners will vary from school to school. Local authorities and Regional Improvement Collaboratives will play a pivotal role in supporting improvements in curriculum-making and in ensuring high quality learning, teaching and assessment in schools. In an empowered system, it is important to ensure that the curriculum support needs of teachers influence and guide the priorities for local collaboration and improvement.

Example: Improvement activity and support for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM)

The STEM Education and Training Strategy aims to build Scotland's capacity to deliver excellent STEM learning, and to close equity gaps in participation and attainment in STEM. It aims to inspire young people and adults to study STEM, and to provide a better connection between STEM education and training and the needs of the labour market in Scotland.

Key priorities include the STEM bursary scheme for career changers, STEM professional learning grants (a £2 million programme that will benefit around 13,000 practitioners this year), funding of £2.63 million to be shared between Scotland’s four science centres in 2019/20 and dedicated improvement support from Education Scotland’s regional STEM advisers.

We will continue to work with partners to expand the range of pathways available to young people in the Senior Phase, to support schools to broaden their offer for learners and to achieve the benefits of the Developing the Young Workforce Programme.

We will continue to ensure that schools are empowered to make decisions in the interests of their young people. The guiding principle is that qualifications are taken at the appropriate stage for the individual young person over the three years of the Senior Phase. It is important, however, that we better understand how the Senior Phase curriculum is being implemented in schools and identify areas we might seek to modify to ensure the best standard of education for our young people. An independent review of the Senior Phase will be conducted in 2020, and will focus on understanding the experiences of learners as well as practitioners, parents and carers.

We will reinforce the breadth and innovation within the curriculum, maximizing the potential for cross-curricular work and inter-disciplinary learning.

Example: Inter-disciplinary learning through Learning for Sustainability

A key strength within Scotland’s curriculum is its focus on supporting Scotland’s young people to be responsible, global citizens and its emphasis on “Learning for Sustainability” as an entitlement for all. LfS provides a context for schools to use complex global challenges such as the Global Climate Emergency as a context for learning. We will take forward a number of key national actions as part of our Learning for Sustainability Action Plan, maximizing the potential for LfS as a context for cross curricular and inter-disciplinary learning.

An empowered and collaborative system

International evidence has shown that successful education systems are those where decisions about children and young people’s education are made as close to them as possible. That is why our approach is to empower headteachers, teachers, parents, learners, and the wider school community to make the key decisions which affect the educational outcomes of children and young people. This need for empowerment has been a common theme running through the advice and recommendations from the ICEA, as is the need to strengthen collaboration at all levels of the system.

A think piece published by the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES) “Towards a Learning System; a new approach to raising standards for all in Scottish schools” also emphasised the shared ambition for an empowered system:

“At the heart of this endeavour is our desire to have a confident, reflective, self-improving school system where the responsibility for improvement is increasingly set at school rather than local authority level”

Our 2017 Empowering Schools consultation demonstrated clear agreement that meaningful empowerment at every level of the system is needed to achieve the improvement we all want for our children and young people. Consultation respondents felt that the culture change could be better and more quickly achieved without legislation. This was also supported by the ICEA, which recommended that the Scottish Government consider whether educational improvement could be achieved by a collaborative approach, rather than bringing forward legislation.

Following focused work with our local government partners and Education Scotland, in June 2018 we published a Joint Agreement setting out a shared ambition of empowerment and collaboration to improve outcomes for children and young people.

Reflecting this joint commitment to collaborative system leadership, three working groups were established to take forward the actions identified in the joint agreement covering guidance, self-evaluation and an evaluation strategy. The groups bring together representatives from teaching unions, headteacher associations, local and central government, parents and carers, the General Teaching Council for Scotland and Education Scotland. Together we developed new draft guidance and resources to support the empowerment of learning communities across Scotland. We are engaging with stakeholders on this guidance to inform the development of a finalised resource to support the development of an empowered system. This is complemented by additional partnership work underway to strengthen guidance on parental involvement and engagement.

The Headteachers’ Charter was published as an agreed draft in February 2019, and aims to ensure schools have wide-ranging decision-making powers over what matters, including learning, teaching, the curriculum, and resources such as staffing and budgets, and that they can make decisions by involving their whole school community.

This delivers on the policy intention which was originally part of the draft Education Bill. The Headteachers’ Charter supports a culture of empowerment that enables all professionals to contribute to the agenda of improvement.

Following publication of the Headteachers’ Charter and associated school leaders’ guidance, a draft Self-evaluation Framework for Local Authorities and a draft strategy for evaluating the impact of the school empowerment reforms were published in July 2019.

Progress of the education reform programme was reviewed at the end of the 2018/19 school session and was outlined by the Deputy First Minister in a statement to the Scottish Parliament on 25 June 2019. The progress document published as part of that statement can be found at:

Empowerment also means improving how schools and early learning and childcare settings support children and young people to participate in their own learning and in the life and work of their school. In recognition of this, and as a long-term legacy from Year of Young People 2018, learner empowerment and participation will form a key aspect in the empowering schools reforms. Education Scotland will continue to provide advice and support in relation to learner participation. Scottish Government and Education Scotland will continue to improve the participation of young people in the development of national education policy, including continued engagement with the Scottish Learner Panel initiative.

Supported by national funding, Scotland’s six Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs) continue to strengthen regional capacity for collaboration and educational improvement. They are supporting schools in improving outcomes for learners through enhanced professional networking and the sharing of best practice, and through delivery of a range of professional development and improvement activities. In addition, to add value to regional collaboration and ensure national initiatives are embedded, Education Scotland has restructured to enhance its capacity. To ensure that they build on and enhance the educational improvement support provided to schools and early learning establishments, regional improvement plans are delivered in partnership by the local authorities within each RIC, supported by Education Scotland. Examples of regional collaboration include the provision of additional regional support and advice in areas such as closing the attainment gap, curriculum development, professional learning and leadership, assessment and moderation, and pupil health and wellbeing.

In February 2019, an interim review of RICs was published. That review recognised the progress made in putting in place the governance arrangements, underpinning architecture and first regional plans for each RIC, and set out recommendations to further build on and extend the reach and impact of RIC activity. A further review, to assess RIC progress in these and other areas, is being commissioned to report in summer 2020.

The support and opportunities available for school leaders to develop their leadership skills and collaborate for improvement will continue to grow in 2020. Education Scotland will further enhance the leadership support package for aspiring and existing school leaders. Aspiring headteachers will be supported to develop their leadership potential by the local authority and through national development programmes such as Into Headship. There will be new opportunities for teachers to develop leadership skills through Education Scotland leadership programmes.

The Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT) set up an independent panel to consider new career pathway models for teachers and headteachers. The panel’s recommendations include the creation of a new Lead Teacher post for specialist roles in curricular, pedagogical and policy delivery. The SNCT is now tasked with developing a work-plan that will deliver the recommendations by August 2021. A further review of progress will be taken at the end of the 19/20 school session.

The actions set out later in this plan under each of the drivers of improvement explore how a culture of empowerment and collaboration will help to achieve the ambitions of the NIF.

Improving the voice of young people

The Scottish Learner Panel was established in October 2018, the first step in our journey towards building a new approach to formally incorporating the voice of learners in our decision making processes.

The aim of the Learner Panel was to further improve the voice of children and young people in the formulation of national education policy, and to build a clear legacy in Scottish education from the Year of Young People 2018. For the first time it provided a coherent structure for the gathering of the views and perspectives of a diverse group of children and young people (aged 3-18 years). The aim was to develop and pilot a model to shape school-level, local and national education policies, highlighting the key issues, challenges and opportunities in Scottish education.

The first year of the Learner Panel has been a success. The children and young people involved are able to speak directly to those shaping and delivering education in Scotland. Education Scotland used the outputs of one of the Learner Panel workshops to help develop the Scottish Learning Festival programme, and Panel members were given the opportunity to present their ideas during a seminar session at the Festival.

A report of the first year of the Learner Panel was published in September 2019. We will continue to support the Panel’s activities in 2020, ensuring that learners can influence the Refreshed Narrative, learner empowerment within the broader school empowerment reforms and the future of the Panel itself.

Excellence and equity

Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence continues to provide the basis for our relentless focus on excellence and equity. In 2020 we will continue to focus on securing improvement in children and young people’s health and wellbeing and in attainment, particularly in literacy, numeracy and maths.

We will continue to support improvement activity across all subject areas, for example through our STEM Education and Training strategy which seeks to enable and encourage more Scots to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for helping to grow Scotland's economy.

An empowered and highly effective leadership is key to ensuring the highest possible standards. The £750m Attainment Scotland Fund is already delivering results by empowering the teaching profession. Teachers and headteachers are taking radical, focused and innovative approaches to improve outcomes in their schools – because Pupil Equity Funding puts them in the driving seat.

The second interim evaluation of the Attainment Scotland Fund, published in June 2019 showed that 88% of headteachers had already seen improvements in relation to closing the poverty related attainment gap as a result of their interventions, and nearly all headteachers (95%) expected to see further improvements over the next five years.

The interim evaluation also suggests that the equity agenda has become embedded in schools’ practice and ethos. The funding provided to schools via the Attainment Scotland Fund is considered by local authorities to be vital to closing the poverty related attainment gap, whilst also driving practice in core activities that target the closure of the attainment gap.

Local authorities and schools recognised the importance of data and evidence for monitoring the impact of their improvement activity. Some Challenge Authorities had worked with local universities to support their evaluative activity. Headteachers reported having evaluation plans in place to monitor the progress of their approaches, and 90% felt confident in the use of data and evidence.

The Programme for Government, launched at the beginning of September 2019, included a commitment to extend funding for the Scottish Attainment Challenge beyond the end of this Parliamentary term, with a specific announcement that funding would continue at current levels into 2021-22.

To further enhance the impact of the Scottish Attainment Challenge, the Scottish Government and Education Scotland will continue to work in partnership with local authorities, schools and other key stakeholders to facilitate, broker and support action across five key areas over the next 18 months and beyond. The five areas are:

1. Expertise and tailored additional support will be targeted where the latest evidence shows that the pace of progress could be increased.

2. Every school and every teacher will have access to, and understand, what the data and evidence says and have the skills to use this to improve children and young people’s learning, progress and achievement.

3. Specific approaches which are making the biggest impact in improving children’s progress and attainment in literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing will be identified and shared systematically.

4. We will work with teachers and schools to enhance their professional practice by empowering them to develop sustainable approaches to improvement, and ensure lasting impact for children and young people affected by poverty.

5. Working together at national, regional and local level, we will increase our collective efforts across all levels of government and build on the momentum of empowerment and collaboration, to identify, take responsibility for, and tackle the causes of the attainment gap at all levels.

The evidence from the Attainment Scotland Fund is showing that high quality teaching practice and effective pedagogy are crucial to securing better outcomes for children and young people.

Health and wellbeing

The Scottish approach to inclusion affords all children and young people the opportunity to be a part of a community, boosting their mental health, emotional wellbeing and enabling young people to learn, thrive and feel engaged. Scotland’s inclusive approach celebrates diversity and allows all children and young people to develop an understanding and recognition of differences, contributing to the development of an increasingly inclusive, empathetic and more just society.

We want all children and young people to get the support that they need to reach their full learning potential, however, we are aware that we must improve the educational experience for all pupils. We have listened to the experiences of children and families about getting the support they need and are taking action to secure more positive experiences for all children and young people in school.

Since the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence, our approach to behaviour in schools has adapted and evolved to meet the needs of all children and young people. Our schools are places that promote positive relationships and behaviour, underpinned by strong school ethos and cultures based on the values of respect, inclusion and responsibility. We have worked with our local authority partners and a range of stakeholders to embed this approach as the foundation for Scottish education and a key driver to support learning and to raise attainment. We are clear that no member of staff should have to suffer abuse in the workplace, whether that be verbal or physical abuse, and we have invested in a number of approaches and provided guidance for local authorities, schools and staff as part of our wider approach to promote positive relationships and behaviour.

We know that the mental wellbeing of school staff is important. That is why we have reached agreement with the teacher unions and employers to work collaboratively to tackle key issues facing teachers, including workload and wellbeing. This will include the development of new professional learning opportunities focusing on staff health and wellbeing. It is through this partnership approach that we will collectively tackle unacceptable workload and improve wellbeing, to the benefit of staff and learners.

This includes the publication of revised guidance - Included, Engaged and Involved Parts 1 and 2 - which emphasises the fundamental importance of a school’s culture, ethos and values to promoting positive relationships and behaviour. A positive ethos has been identified in school improvement studies as being fundamental to raising attainment, and that is why an inclusive ethos, where everyone’s contribution is valued and encouraged, should be promoted by all.

We are continuing this work in 2020 with the production of new guidance, in the Included, Engaged and Involved series, to address the specific issue of physical restraint and seclusion in Scottish schools. This guidance will set out a clear human rights based policy on physical intervention and seclusion in schools, set within a broader context placing appropriate focus on the rights and needs of disabled children as well as children with additional support needs, wherever their learning takes place.

Providing a positive future for our young people is our top priority and their mental health is a key part of that. We know that prevention and early intervention make a big difference to the risk of developing mental health problems and it is important, therefore, that schools have the capacity to support pupils, and the flexibility to utilise an approach that meets local needs and circumstances. Schools across the country are developing innovative ways of ensuring that mental wellbeing is foremost in a school’s ethos and culture, and that young people are experiencing approaches across their learning which is interactive and engaging.

The importance of mental wellbeing is recognised within the Curriculum and the Scottish Attainment Challenge has a key focus in improving the health and wellbeing of children adversely affected by poverty. Challenge funding is invested in a wide variety of initiatives and resources to support health and wellbeing. These include partnership working with third sector organisations such as Barnardo’s Scotland, family learning initiatives, community cafes, breakfast clubs and supported study. The funding also enables schools to employ a range of additional staff including educational psychologists, home link workers, mental health counsellors and speech & language therapists.

In recognition of the importance and value of embedding effective mental wellbeing practice within the curriculum and schools we are supporting our teachers to deliver relevant, engaging learning that will develop and strengthen the resilience of our young people. The National Improvement Hub includes a number of resources as well as current examples of effective practice taking place in schools. One of these resources is The Compassionate and Connected Classroom and Community for primary school pupils. The resource helps young people to cope with challenges and adversity and develop their confidence, resilience, compassion and empathy. Teachers are offered training by Education Scotland to support delivery of this resource.

Educational psychologists play an important role in supporting children and young people’s positive mental health. As well as providing support to children, parents and families directly, they help build the capacity of school staff to meet the learning and mental wellbeing needs of all pupils, and have a valuable contribution to make to school improvement planning. In partnership with local authorities, we have invested significantly in training educational psychologists to ensure that we have a sustainable supply to meet future needs.

We recognise the excellent work that is already underway across our schools to promote positive mental health, but we know we can do more. That is why we are working with key stakeholders to design and develop a new learning resource for all school staff, which will be freely available and will give all school staff the opportunity to learn vital mental wellbeing first aid skills in order to support children and young people. We are developing a suite of resources to support our schools in delivering lessons that promote strategies and understanding to support the positive mental wellbeing of children and young people and to break down the stigma associated with mental ill health.

We are also providing a significant package of funding to support local authorities to provide access to counsellors in every secondary school in Scotland. School counselling will enhance the work that schools already do to support children and young people’s learning on mental wellbeing, and provides an immediacy of response, as well as links to a wider continuum of support in the community. Children and young people who have concerns about their mental wellbeing will be able to receive support, more quickly and effectively than ever before.

It is vital that the curriculum is as diverse as the young people who learn in Scotland’s schools. The Scottish Government is taking a world leading approach to embed LGBT education across the curriculum, rather than in specific LGBT lessons. The work is set out in a published action plan and is being implemented in partnership with a wide range of LGBT partners including Stonewall Scotland, LGBT Youth Scotland and the Equality Network. The recommendations will be delivered by March 2021 and will improve the learning environment for all children and young people.

The Scottish Government also recognises the importance of personal and social education (PSE) in providing the foundations for successful learning. The recommendations of the Review of PSE, published in January 2019, set out our plan to strengthen and enhance existing provision and support consistency in delivery.

We have made excellent progress taking forward those recommendations. In collaboration with key partners and stakeholders, we are reviewing the current guidance on the Conduct of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood Education in Schools; we are also collaborating with colleagues in local authorities through a PSE Lead Officers Network and are collaborating with colleagues on the Learner Journey Review to support and empower young people in the delivery of relevant and engaging personal and social education in the senior phase.

All of the recommendations of the review of PSE will be delivered by March 2021.

We are also moving forward with plans to introduce a brand new Health and Wellbeing Census, covering children from late primary through to secondary schools, starting in the 2019/20 academic year. This Census will cover aspects of health and wellbeing for children and young people, which is defined in Scotland by the wellbeing indicators (Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected, Responsible and Included) that are an integral part of getting it right for every child (GIRFEC). GIRFEC is the national approach in Scotland to improving outcomes and supporting the wellbeing of our children and young people by offering the right help at the right time from the right people. It supports them and their parent(s), and/or carers, to work in partnership with the services that can help them.

Early learning and childcare

We know that the socio-economic gap in cognitive development opens up well before children start primary school. Narrowing this gap in the years before school must be part of the strategy to promote equity.

It is widely acknowledged that the provision of universally accessible and high quality early learning and childcare (ELC) can make an important contribution to this. The Scottish Government is therefore making an unprecedented investment in ELC that will strengthen outcomes for children by the time they reach school starting age, with sustained impact well into their later learning journey.

From August 2020, the entitlement to funded early learning and childcare will almost double from 600 to 1140 hours per year for all 3 and 4 year olds and for eligible two year olds. This is the equivalent of 30 hours a week taken across term-time.

Although we know that many children are already accessing 30 hours a week of ELC using a combination of funded and privately purchased hours, we also know that there is a notable difference between ELC use among children from the least and most deprived SIMD quintiles. We would therefore expect to see the expansion of funded ELC having the greatest impact, in terms of the number of hours experienced, on children from more disadvantaged backgrounds. This is likely to create more parity in the extent to which children receive formal support with their learning and development in the early years.

While evidence shows that all children, and especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can benefit from attending early learning and childcare, a key finding from research is that for benefits to be realised, early learning and childcare must be of high quality. The Scottish Government therefore has a strong focus, as part of the ELC expansion programme, on protecting and strengthening the quality of provision. Most of the 15 actions in the ELC Quality Action Plan, which was published in October 2017, have already been delivered, with the remaining well underway.

In addition, the Scottish Government has also introduced a new National Standard that all funded providers will be required to meet from August 2020. A key element of the National Standard is a requirement to achieve ’good’ or better in all four Care Inspectorate evaluation themes. For those settings currently not achieving this (around 9% of existing funded providers) the Scottish Government is working in partnership with local authorities to put in place targeted quality improvement support.

In addition to the expansion in funded hours, a targeted earlier ELC offer is available to around a quarter of two year olds. This offer applies to: children in care (looked after, kinship, guardianship); those in families receiving certain, no or very low income benefits; and children in families receiving support through an asylum claim. The 2019 Programme for Government confirmed that eligibility would also be extended to children whose parents are care-experienced from August 2020. The Scottish Government’s expectation is that this earlier offer for eligible twos, together with the funding of an extra graduate level practitioner (an Equity and Excellence Lead) for settings serving our most disadvantaged communities, will make a key contribution to closing the poverty related attainment gap.

The ELC offer will also be characterised by a strong focus on outdoor learning. We know the benefits of outdoor learning, exercise and play for young children in terms of their wellbeing and physical and cognitive development. We also know that play and learning outdoors has a positive impact on learning in science by, for example, enhancing understanding of the changing seasons, enabling greater levels of physical exploration, and experiences with wildlife and the elements. There is also some evidence that outdoor learning helps to facilitate different adult/child and peer relationships, allowing some children, otherwise not reaching their potential, to flourish in this different environment.

Many ELC settings have already embraced learning outdoors, and outdoor-based services generally achieve higher inspection grades than the national average for children’s daycare. The Scottish Government is working to further promote and enhance outdoor learning by, for example, the creation of an outdoor play and learning coalition statement, the requirement in the National Standard to offer children daily access to outdoor play and learning, and the publication of ‘Out to Play’ which provides guidance and practical advice on how to access outdoor spaces to create safe, nurturing and inspiring outdoor learning experiences.

Measuring the attainment gap

In the 2018 NIF and Improvement Plan, we set out our approach to measuring the poverty related attainment gap between children and young people from the least and most disadvantaged communities. We identified 11 key measures to assess progress, and a further 15 sub-measures that reflect the key stages of the learner journey and the breadth of issues that can impact on attainment.

Ministers are committed to making demonstrable progress in closing the gap during the lifetime of this Parliament, and to substantially eliminate it in the next decade.

At the moment, the evidence is demonstrating that the improvement activities being undertaken under each of the NIF drivers of improvement are helping to deliver a narrowing of the attainment gap across the key measures which have been assessed since the 2018 NIF and Improvement Plan was published. At its most recent meeting, the ICEA said that the evidence so far was demonstrating some progress towards closing the poverty related attainment gap, but that equity and excellence should be seen as a long-term task. Small, steady, incremental gains are evident and need to continue in order to deliver sustainable improvement in any education system, and this is what the ICEA can see happening in Scotland. The ICEA felt it was important to keep up the momentum, and have a period of consolidation and stability to ensure the improvement work that is being undertaken across the Scottish education system has time to become embedded.

Of the 11 key measures, 6 are showing a small narrowing of the gap; albeit due to a mixed underlying picture and to varying extents. For the other 5 measures, two are showing little change in the size of the gap; 1 measure is showing a small widening of the gap; 1 measure hasn’t had any more up-to-date information made available in order to assess its progress; and 1 measure we cannot now compare directly over time, as there has been a change in the underlying process which has affected the reporting of this information. More detail on what the data is telling us is provided below under each measure.

We are also using stretch aims for each of the 11 key measures to assist the Scottish Government, local authorities and schools to develop and implement the most appropriate improvement activities to secure educational improvement for all children and young people in Scotland. At the moment, none of the measures which are showing a narrowing are narrowing to the extent shown by the stretch aims, but the progress that has been made is encouraging, particularly in the light of the advice from the ICEA. It should also be noted that stretch aims differ significantly from targets, which are set out specifically to support accountability and scrutiny. Instead, stretch aims set a challenging ambition for those delivering improvement to aspire to. The stretch aims are being reported against so that those engaged in improvement work can use them as a guide and to evidence progress towards the desired outcome. We will report more fully on the stretch aims in the 2021 NIF.

27-30 month review (children showing no concerns across all domains)
In 2016/17, there was a change to the domains assessed by health visitors at a child’s 27-30 month review.

Between April 2013 and March 2017, health visitors assessed children across nine domains at their review (speech, language and communication; attention; fine motor; gross motor; social; emotional; behavioural; vision; and hearing). Since April 2017, these nine domains became eight new domains (speech, language and communication; gross motor; fine motor; personal/social; emotional/behavioural; vision; hearing; and problem solving).

This change has had an impact on the statistics produced for this key measure since 2017/18, largely due to the fact that not all Health Boards are currently assessing the new problem solving domain that was introduced in April 2017. As a result of this, the statistics produced for this key measure since 2017/18 are much lower than in pre-2017/18, because it is now not known if a child actually has no concerns across all of the current eight developmental domains (because if one or more domain is not assessed then we do not know if this is indeed the case.)

HWB:Children total difficulties score (age 4-12)

The gap between children in the most deprived and least deprived areas has narrowed from 16 percentage points to 12 percentage points. However the reduction is due to an increase in the proportion of children from the least deprived areas with borderline or abnormal total difficulties score. This information has not yet been updated since the last report, as this has not yet been made available from the latest Scottish Health Survey results.

HWB:Children total difficulties score (age 13&15)

The data for this measure is taken from the Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey (SALSUS) which is carried out every two or three years. This information has not yet been updated since the last report as this has not yet been made available from the latest SALSUS results.

Primary - Literacy (P1, P4, P7 combined)
Secondary - Literacy (S3, 3rd level or better)
Primary - Numeracy (P1, P4, P7 combined)
Secondary - Numeracy (S3, 3rd level or better)

The 2018/19 data, which are now no longer being published as Experimental Statistics, shows that pupils from the least deprived areas performed better than pupils from the most deprived areas at all stages. The data also shows that the gap between the proportion of primary pupils from the most and least deprived areas, who achieved their expected level in literacy, has reduced since 2016/17. The gap between the proportion of primary pupils from the most and least deprived areas who achieved their expected level in numeracy reduced slightly between 2016/17 and 2017/18, and has remained stable between 2017/18 and 2018/19. The picture is slightly different at S3, where the gap between the proportion of pupils from the most and least deprived areas who achieved their expected level in literacy reduced slightly between 2016/17 and 2017/18, but then increased slightly between 2017/18 and 2018/19. There has also been a narrowing of the gap between the most and least deprived areas for pupils in S3 who achieved their expected level in numeracy since 2016/17.

SCQF Levels 4, 5 and 6 (1 or more on leaving school)
The current narrowing of the gap, based on school leaver attainment since 2015/16 is a mixed picture with reductions in the gap due partly to increasing attainment amongst some leavers, but also some decreases in attainment in leavers from the least deprived areas.

Participation Measure
The participation measure shows that the proportion of 16-19 year olds participating in education, training or employment has remained fairly steady since 2018, and that there continues to be a narrowing of the gap between the proportion of 16-19 year olds in the most deprived areas participating in education, training and employment compared with 16-19 year olds in the least deprived areas. This narrowing of the gap is due to the proportion of 16-19 year olds participating in education, training or employment increasing more for those 16-19 year olds in the most deprived areas than for those in the least deprived areas.

Summary tables of the key measures are set out below, while the 15 sub-measures can be seen in the NIF Interactive Evidence Report.

Executive Summary: Early years, helath and wellbeing

As set out above, for the 27-30 month review there are only data for 2017/18 as there has been a change in the developmental domains assessed at these reviews since April 2017. Not all health boards are currently assessing all of the new developmental domains (in particular the new problem solving domain). As such, this is having an impact on the statistics produced for this key measure, so comparisons over time should not be made.

For the HWB: children total difficulties data, for both 4-12 year olds, and for 13 and 15 year olds, no new data have been released since it was last reported, so the information reported last year is still the latest available.

Executive Summary: Broad General Eduction

Executive Summary: Senior Phase and Participation Measure



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